Socrates on Self-Control

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

“There is no difference between knowledge and temperance; for he who knows what is good and embraces it, who knows what is bad and avoids it, is learned and temperate.”


“Temperance” is an old-fashioned word. We’re more likely to use words like “self-control”, or “willpower”. The game is the same: not too much, not too little. Good choices. Moderation.

Some days, guitar practice comes easy. We’re drawn to it. The timing is right, and everything falls into place.

Other days are harder. We’re busy or distracted. We may feel the weight of other things on our list. It’s on these days we face the test.

Sure, we want to live a life that includes music. We want the experiences and rewards. But on any given day, we’re faced with the immediate option.

These days require willpower.

And even within our practice, we must exercise control over what we practice. Some areas attract, others repel. And if we want the benefits of each (scales, pieces, exercises, etc.), we need self-control.

But here’s the catch: when we need self-control is often when it’s most difficult to muster.

So how can we access more willpower when we need it?

Long-term solutions are wonderful if we’ve already started – meditation, more sleep, exercise.

But what about the times when our stomachs knot and our tongues taste bitter?

It’s in these times that we need to pause and relax. We need to take a moment to let our higher faculties come online.

(In the brain, this means we activate our parasympathetic nervous systems and our pre-frontal cortexes.)

Here’s how: All it takes is slowing down our breathing to 4–6 breaths a minute. This is 10–15 seconds per breath. It’s easiest to start with slowing down the exhale. Blow out all the way through pursed lips, as if through a straw.

Any time we need an extra dose of willpower, a few slow breaths will help. We make better decisions, think more clearly, and notice more of the fine details of the situation.

Difficult decisions may still be difficult, but at least we’ll be more able to pick a path we’ll be proud of later.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully. Click here for a sample formula.

After more than a year as a member, I remain impressed with the Woodshed, song courses, Tuesday quotes, weekly lessons, and the CGS community. Without my membership, I think my enthusiasm for learning classical guitar would have faded long ago. Instead, I am enjoying the process as I make steady progress in my playing.

-Steve Dosh

Allen Mathews was recommended to me as somebody who could help me expand my guitar vocabulary.  Allen started me on a really fun cycle of lessons and practice.  He is a very good,and very enthusiastic teacher, and I feel that I'm on the road to learning.  I couldn't be more pleased with my experience.

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